Is it the Right Thing to Do? 8 Questions to Ask Ourselves
Is it ok for Christians to have tattoos? Drink alcohol? Watch R-rated movies? Listen to secular music? Some say these fall into the “principles of conscience” category and depend on the individual believer’s convictions. If these depend upon personal convictions, is it then ok to be an ally for LGBTQ+ lifestyles? Is it ok to support abortion? If not, then how do we know the difference? When is it appropriate to label one thing an issue of individual convictions and another incompatible with Christianity?
These are great questions to ask. Before we begin answering them, let’s define some terms. The concept of “principles of conscience” is found in Romans 14 and 1 Corinthians 8. The basic idea in both passages is this: In the Christian life, there will be applications of the Word of God on which believers disagree. In these texts, Paul assumes that both applications are rooted in one’s interpretation of the Word of God. When dealing with these disagreements, the overriding principle is love for your brother. One person may not feel any conviction to do or not do a particular thing, while another has a strong conviction regarding the same. The way that we decide what to do in each situation depends on what is best for our brother without violating our conscience. Sounds simple enough, right? Until we begin attempting to apply it.
I’d like to give you eight questions to help you navigate this. These first four deal with how we develop our convictions.
1. Does the Bible provide clear direction on being the ultimate authority on the issue?
If the Bible is explicit or even clearly implicit on an issue, our convictions must align with God’s revelation. This is how we tell the difference between supporting sexual sin and getting a tattoo. When scripture is clear on a matter, our convictions are not left to conscience. If the Bible is not clear on the issue, then we should apply general biblical wisdom and grant that the issue may come down to personal preferences.
2. Am I glorifying God with my conviction on the issue?
Whether or not a particular behavior can glorify God will be a point of disagreement, and that’s not only ok, it’s precisely the point. Having submitted myself to the Word of God, I must now consult my conscience in dependence on the Holy Spirit. If I can listen to that song or watch that movie, appreciating the elements that honor God with gratitude, this may be a green light for me. Asking this question is also an excellent filter to check our intentions. If we’re looking for a line to see how much we can get away with without sinning, our intentions may indicate a heart focused more on testing God than following Him.
3. Is the conviction I hold healthy for me?
This question would apply spiritually, as well as physically, emotionally, relationally, and mentally. Once again, different people will answer this question differently, which is why it falls into the category of “principles of conscience.”
4. Is the conviction I hold healthy for others?
Or rather, is it unhealthy for others? Does my holding this position or taking this action harm anyone else? Something that is not inherently sinful can become sinful in certain circumstances. Putting $20 into a group bracket during March Madness may or may not be sinful, depending on your view of stewardship. Still, it becomes sinful if doing so encourages a brother with a gambling addiction to participate.
Now we come to the outworking of these disagreements. What should we do when our convictions differ from another brother or sister in Christ? These next four questions can help when interacting with those who disagree with us.
5. Consider your brother’s conviction in the context of the first four questions in this article. Does your brother’s conviction pass those tests?
If not, then it would be appropriate to humbly discuss those convictions with your brother or sister. There can be no room for disagreement on the first question (submission to the Word of God). Questions two through four can be disagreed upon in love.
6. Are these convictions something we can “agree to disagree” about?
If the conviction is clearly a matter of conscience, then by default, it is not a belief we should break fellowship over. Most of these would fall into third-tier issues. Furthermore, if we take into consideration the progressive nature of sanctification, it is entirely appropriate at times to leave room for others’ convictions to develop or change. Paul models this for us in his prayer for the Philippians to be like-minded when he says, “Let those of us who are mature think this way, and if in anything you think otherwise, God will reveal that also to you.” (Philippians 3:15)
7. Is my conviction something my brother or sister is not yet prepared for?
Many of us can recall a point in our walk with Christ when we thought something was sinful, only to later learn that we were actually following a man-made tradition or an overly sensitive conscience. Maybe we once thought that long hair on a man was dishonoring to God. It would have been appropriate for a brother to lovingly challenge that conviction. However, it would be inappropriate, even sinful, says Paul, for that brother to pressure anyone/someone into growing their hair out in spite of their conviction. We have to leave room for the Holy Spirit to work in the lives of others and do what He has done in our own lives.
8. Am I loving my brother more by addressing the conviction with them or causing more harm remaining silent?
This is where Paul lands when he says, “Therefore, if food makes my brother stumble, I will never eat meat, lest I make my brother stumble.” (1 Corinthians 8:13) We have freedom in Christ to allow our consciences to determine some of our convictions as they are informed by the Word of God and dependent on the Spirit of God. This freedom, however, is subject to the higher law of love.
We see in Romans 14 and 1 Corinthians 8 that the application of the law of love in issues of Christian liberty and “principles of conscience” works both ways.
To the one whose conscience believes that he can do a thing, the Word says to be careful that your liberty doesn’t hurt your brother. To the one who believes he can’t do a thing, the Word says, be careful that your conviction doesn’t impose a law upon your brother that God has not imposed. As to our opening questions:
Those things on which God has spoken explicitly or clearly implicitly are not subject to our liberty or consciences. Rather, our liberty and conscience are to be
subject to that revelation.
Nick Judd is the Kids Pastor at The Journey Church in Lebanon, TN. He is also the co-host of the "Everyday Apologetics" podcast. Nick is passionate about growing people in their knowledge of the Word of God and in their ability to defend it in the midst of a culture fighting against truth.
- Biblical Interpretation, Decision Making, Discipleship, Doctrinal Tiers, Hermeneutics, Spiritual Disciplines